While slogging my way through the grit-inspired book authored by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, I came across an interesting two paragraphs on a move in 2002 that could have change Yankee history. While the Yankee Front Office signed Rondell White to a forgettable two-year, $5-million contract, new Yankee Jason Giambi and then-manager Torre wanted to sign a different player to fill the left field gap.
“The one I was interested in,” Torre said, “was Johnny Damon.” Verducci eleaborates on page 170:
As the Yankees were wrapping up the Giambi negotiations, Giambi lobbied the Yankees to sign his buddy Damon to play left field. The Yankees decided they had a better idea; they signed Rondell White for $10 million over two years, leaving Damon to sign four days later with the Red Sox for $31 million over four years.
“Giambi tried to talk them into signing me,” Damon said. “Rondell beat me to the punch. I heard there was one person who didn’t want me there.” Damon declined to identify the person with the Yankees who did not want him.”
While it’s easy to chalk this one up to revisionist Joe Torre history, from the sound of it, Ddamon would have come to New York, and some members of the organization wanted him. Why they never signed him in 2002 will long remain a mystery, but it certainly had a lasting impact on Yankee history.
Had the Yanks signed Damon, he wouldn’t have been on the 2004 Red Sox, and the odds are good that the Yanks wouldn’t have even been in a position to blow a 3-0 lead. That they went with White over Damon probably stands as one of the bigger, if lesser known, mistakes of the last decade.